At the beginning of this summer, I turned 45. It was kind of a big deal – a mid-way point in my life.
When I turned 45, I decided that, instead of getting all serious and introspective (like I am inclined to do), I would do something fun to honour what I like about myself.
And so I created the e-course “A Path for Wanderers and Edge-walkers” and started writing lessons about what it means to be a wanderer, a globe-trotter, an edge-walker, a gypsy, a gadabout… in other words, what it means to be ME.
And then I spent much of the summer wandering. I wandered through my city, I wandered on beaches, I wandered through the woods… I wandered on foot, I wandered by bicycle, and I wandered by canoe. While I wandered, I came up with lessons and inspirations and I TOOK GREAT DELIGHT IN MY WANDERING! Not only that, but I learned a lot from it and realized that my wandering edge-walking spirit is one of my greatest strengths. You can see a lot from the edge that people in the centre can’t see.
Now I have completed 12 lessons in the series (none of which I wrote at home – it seems I needed to be doing the wandering in order to write about it), and it is some of my very favourite writing ever. It’s writing that stretched me to think outside the box, to re-define myself, to dig into my spiritual self, to re-imagine the world, and to see other people differently. I hope it will stretch you too.
One of the things I learned this summer is that not only am I a wanderer and an edge-walker, but most of the members of the tribe I tend to gather around myself are wanderers and edge-walkers too.
Here’s a quote from someone who’s been enjoying the series this summer:
“Heather’s unique blend of practical wisdom, passion & creativity is reflected so eloquently here. She instinctively knows how best to inspire & encourage, capturing perfectly the deep yearning of every edge-walker & wide-eyed wanderer! The rich mix of personal story-telling (with corresponding photographs), a treasure trove of insightful interviews plus a wealth of probing questions, provides the reader with much to ponder. It is both challenging, hugely inspirational & deeply uplifting – a real treat! Thank you!” – Jo Hassan
Last week I spent a good deal of time compiling all 12 lessons into an e-book. When I wander, I like to take photographs, and this e-book not only has 115 pages of juicy, rich, inspiring content, it also contains 115 of my original photographs from my global wanderings.
I am so in love with this product that I want to share it with everyone.
Here’s a list of the lesson titles:
1. Permission to be a wanderer
2. What does your Wandering say about You?
3. Risk Making Connections
4. The Wanderer at the Edge – On Naming Ourselves
5. When Journeys Change us – Slowing Down to the Speed of Soul
6. Curiosity DIDN’T kill the cat – Life as a Learning Journey
7. At the Halfway Point – Self-care for Wanderers & Wandering as Self-care
8. Following the Thread – A Wanderer’s Journey
9. Like the Wild Prairies, Remember your Nature
10. The Blessing of the Pelicans – Guidance in the Wandering
11. Wander to the Right – Playing with your Brain
12. Wandering as Spiritual Quest
Each of these lessons includes an interview with another wonderful wanderer. Find out who they are here.
Since it’s nearing the end of summer, I’m in a good mood, and I’m in the final stretch of preparing for my 100 km. wander in early September, I want to give you the chance to buy “A Path for Wanderers & Edge-walkers” for half price.
That’s just $12.50 for 115 pages of juicy, fun, challenging content. (But only until the September 7, and then it goes back to its regular price of $25.)
To learn more about it click here. On that page, you’ll have the option of buying it as a set of emails that you receive each week for 12 weeks or as a complete 115 page e-book.
If you already know that you want the complete e-book, go ahead and click “Add to cart” below.
There is so much bad news out there, if you look for it. Riots in London, failing economies, famine in East Africa, changing climate causing erratic weather disasters… the list goes on and on. Some days it feels like the whole world is crashing in around us.
It’s enough to make a person completely discouraged. It’s enough to make a person want to bury her head in the sand, and choose to live a self-focused life instead of spending seemingly useless energy on problems that are too big to manage.
Everything I see tells me the same thing over and over again… we need a big hairy audacious paradigm shift.
We need to imagine the world differently.
We need to imagine leadership differently.
We need to imagine ourselves differently.
We need to imagine community differently.
We need to get our heads out of the sand and instead of paying attention to the big ugly negative news, turn our attention toward each other.
We need to keep on caring for each other even though it hurts sometimes and often feels like useless resistance in a tsunami of bad news.
We need to start insisting that our news media focus on the good in people and not just the bad.
We need to engage our creativity and collaboration and stop listening to those people who tell us that consumption and competition is what makes the world go round.
We need to stop believing that the economy is our god and over-consumption is okay because it feeds the economy. We need to seek happiness in other places than shopping malls.
We need to turn to each other, focus on building our communities where we live, and trust that the benefit of local communities will have far-reaching impact (as my friend Kathy Jourdain so eloquently suggests).
We need women and men who will rise up and shift the tide away from aggressive “command and control” leadership to participative “engage and collaborate” leadership.
We need to sit in circles and tell each other stories that will help us understand and celebrate each others’ differences and similarities.
We need to get our egos out of the way and start admitting that the only way to find a new path through the weeds is to trust each other to contribute the necessary skills. And then we need to believe that we are better together than alone.
THIS is why we need more feminine wisdom in leadership. It’s not about women taking over from men (and making their own sets of mistakes). It’s about trusting the wisdom that tends to be more inherent in women than in men. (Even the Washington Post says so.) It’s about engaging our creativity, spirituality, compassion, collaboration, and empathy in the way we lead. It’s about letting our right brains contribute to our decisions as much as our left brains.
None of these problems is going to be fixed overnight. In fact, even using the word “fix” shows limited thinking on our part. These things are not simple problems with simple solutions. There is no linear logic to apply, like a math problem on a high school exam. We can’t just assign more police to the streets of London, for example. We need to look at the systemic problems that shaped what happened long before anything erupted. There is deep complexity that will require a lot of deep thinking and collaborating and failing and trying again and meditating and engaging in conversation.
When change happens, there is always a time of great chaos before new solutions are found. It feels like much of the world is in that place of chaos now. This is not a time for despair. This is a time for hope and creativity. This is a time to gather together and lean on each other.
The world needs new ideas. The world needs YOUR ideas. Get your head out of the sand and start sharing them.
Some days, you will really, really dislike your children.
Some days, your children will really, really dislike you. There may even be days when they yell that dislike in your face.
Children are sucking vortexes of need. Get used to it.
Almost every day, you will wonder if you are doing everything wrong and totally screwing your kids up.
In between those hard days and moments of doubt, there will be moments of pure delight, and you’ll wonder how you could possibly live without these amazing people in your life.
The straight talk on starting a new business:
It’s hard. Really hard.
There will be lots of days when you wake up in a panic wondering how you’re going to survive financially.
On your days of greatest weakness, you will compare yourself to other people and find yourself seriously lacking.
Just when you think you have it figured out, one of your favourite ideas will flop, and you’ll feel like a failure all over again.
If you can work through the discouragement, you’ll have moments when you’re happier than you’ve ever been, doing the things that make your heart sing.
The straight talk on marriage:
There are no fairy tales. No knights in shining armor. No happy endings. You might as well give up the quest.
You’ll have days when you think “what the hell have I done?” or “where did this all go wrong?” or “why does it feel like we are communicating at completely different frequencies?”
There’s a pretty good chance that some day, maybe even 18 years in, the whole thing will fall apart and you’ll be left trying to pick up the pieces.
You’re going to have to work really, really hard if you value what you’ve built and want to stay together. You might even need outside help and you’ll definitely need some prayer.
Once you’ve done the hard work, and given up the fairy tale, you might just find yourself growing (not falling) into real, blinders-off, sometimes-it-hurts-sometimes-it’s-exquisite kind of love. And it will feel like home.
The straight talk on leadership:
Just like parenting, there will be days when you really, really dislike some of the people you lead.
There will be days when they really, really dislike you. They might even file a complaint or take you to court if the dislike runs deeply enough. This may not have anything to do with your actions, but you’ll still be tempted to take it personally.
It may very well be one of the most stressful roles you’ll undertake.
You’ll often feel lonely because lots of people assume the leader is confident enough that they don’t need any moral support or friendship.
If you find the right support and the right people to lead, though, it could possibly be the most rewarding thing you’ll ever do. If you’re living your calling, then it will have meaning.
The straight talk on marketing:
There are people who will want to offer you a formula for success. Don’t believe them. There are no formulas.
Sometimes you’ll do everything by the book, and still very few people will show up or buy your product.
Some people will say “just put out good content and people will show up”. Not true. (At least not all the time.) Lots of people create amazing products that nobody buys.
A lot of times, it’s just a crap shoot – if the right (ie. influential) people show up and buy your product and then share it with their friends, it may go viral.
At the end of the day, the most important thing is building relationships. Be kind to people, support them, offer them your best work, and slowly but surely the right people will show up. (Or they may not, and you’ll have to start over again, but that doesn’t mean you’ve failed, only that the timing wasn’t right for your product, or it needs some tweaking.)
The straight talk on failure:
You will fail. Get used to it. Sometimes even your biggest, boldest dreams will fail.
You’ll have to work hard to not believe that failing defines you as a failure.
Even the most successful people in the world have faced failure at some point in their lives. They may even be failing right now and you just don’t know it because they’re good at hiding it.
Failure may be your greatest teacher if you’re open to it.
Sometimes failure opens doors to you that you wouldn’t have seen if you’d never tried. Go ahead and fail.
The straight talk on life:
There will be many moments when you feel completely lost and unsure of what path you should be on.
People will tell you to “follow these 10 easy steps to success/self-improvement/spirituality”. Don’t believe them. There are no easy steps.
Nobody’s path will look just like yours. You’ll never find the perfect book, teacher, or life coach who will give you complete clarity, because nobody else knows your life. (But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t learn from other people’s wisdom. You should. Just don’t expect it to be the only answer.)
Living a life of integrity, authenticity, and compassion takes a lot of blood, sweat and tears. It’s still worth it.
If you are true to yourself, true to the people that you love, and true to your God, and if you pursue your passions and share your gifts, your life will have meaning.
something that makes things visible or affords illumination: All colors depend on light.
of little weight; not heavy: a light load.
Last week, the word “light” kept showing up for me in what I thought at the time were two different streams. At first there was the stream of light that means the absence of darkness, and then there was the stream of light that means the absence of weight. (Of course, now that I write it down, it seems so obvious, but it took a week of processing for me to finally catch on that I was dealing with one and the same thing.)
The first time light appeared, I was listening to Yolanda Nokuri Hegngi talk about the two years she’d spent in darkness (a story she has written about in her new memoir “Treasures in Darkness”). Yolanda could just as easily have been telling my story. Full of many transitions, deaths, near-deaths, career shifts, and times of great pain, the past two years have taken me through quite a lot of darkness. Every time I thought I was emerging from the darkness, some new shadow would appear.
Yolanda ended her talk by saying “We need leaders who have learned to navigate in the dark.” Wow. I was sure she was speaking directly to me. I’ve learned more than I want to know about navigating in the dark. (Some of you may recall a related post about being called to light a candle for people stumbling in the darkness, just as others have done for me. Yes, callings like that have a way of showing up time and time again, especially when we’re stubborn.)
That afternoon in our leadership intensive, we were invited to write down some intention that we wanted to put our attention on throughout the course of the workshop. In response to Yolanda’s words, I wrote “I am putting my attention on trusting my gift to help people navigate in the dark.”
“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.” – Matthew 5: 14-15
The other stream of light started to appear around the same time. Our workshop held a significant focus on play – how play can transform otherwise dark circumstances and how we can use play in our leadership to engage people in deeper conversations and shifts. (To learn more about it, I encourage you to read the book Walk Out Walk On that the workshop was based on.) I’d signed up for the workshop partly because I have been yearning for more play in my life (it is, after all, the reason I chose the word “joy” as my intention for the year).
I long for more lightness. I want to carry less weight.
But… after Yolanda’s talk, all I wanted to do was cry. I struggled through the afternoon’s session of the workshop because I thought I’d chosen poorly. I wasn’t ready for play after all. I should probably be in the workshop Yolanda was leading – where tears and deep story-telling were more expected.
Quite frankly, I was fighting resentment and resistance. I wanted lightness, but here I was in a place of heaviness again. The year before, I’d gone to ALIA carrying a lot of pain in my broken heart, and I was SURE that this time would be different. This was SUPPOSED to be the year that pain was replaced with joy.
After the session, I went outside, leaned on a large sycamore tree I’d fondly dubbed “Grandmother Tree”, and I cried. I cried for the pain I was still carrying and I cried for the disappointment. I cried and I wrote, and I let the tree hold me up.
And then, still leaning on the tree, I spontaneously wrote the word “lightness” on my arm.
Shortly after that, when I returned to the main meeting room, I sat down on a meditation cushion next to my friend Brad. He looked at the heavy backpack I was carrying on my back, and at the look on my face, and asked “why are you carrying so much weight around?”
I laughed out loud, knowing the question was meant (intentionally or unintentionally) both literally and figuratively. In my backpack was the weight of all of the story-harvesting I love to do – a big camera with multiple lenses, a video camera, a journal, and various related items. On my face, at the same time, was the weight of my personal stories, heartache, and resentment.
“That’s a good question,” I said, “and it’s funny you should ask, because just now I wrote the word ‘lightness’ on my arm.” We shared a chuckle, and then I promised him that the next day I would show up with a lighter load. “You can feel free to bug me if you see me still carrying this weight.”
After the session that evening, I spent a long time wandering around the beautiful OSU campus looking for the other kind of light – the “absence of darkness” (and maybe the “absence of weight” at the same time). I found it reflected off the water, I found it gently falling on the path in front of me, I found blue versions of it shining from the safety phone posts, and I found it sparkling in the windows of old buildings full of stories.
And when I returned to the dorm, and settled into my room, light appeared there as well. This time, it was the “absence of weight” kind, when a spontaneous jam session started in the room I shared with my friend Ann. When someone with a guitar wandered past the door, I said “come in – nobody carrying a guitar is ever turned away”. And then, before I knew it, someone else showed up with a violin, and a third person pulled out a banjo. It was a beautiful light moment and I took great joy in the fact that I (and Ann) had attracted it into my space. (Light attracts light, perhaps?)
Here’s a little video I took lying on the floor in the middle of the musicians. Appropriately, mostly what you see are shadows, because there was very little of the “absence of darkness” kind of light in the room, but plenty of the other kind.
The next morning, as I dressed, I wondered what I could leave behind to make my load lighter. It was a hard decision, but nearly everything stayed in my room. I decided to trust the fact that others would be there with cameras and videocameras and I didn’t need to do as much documenting as I am inclined to do. (As a matter of fact, by then I’d already found at least one person who was taking exceptional photos and another person capturing great video. I could trust them to harvest as well as – or better than – I could and I knew that they would share.)
In an even bigger leap of faith, I decided to leave my journal behind and trust that something else would show up if there were things I wanted to capture (and doodle about). The only things I decided to take with me (besides the key to my room), were some coloured markers in a small colourful pouch I wore around my neck.
Sure enough, during the very first session, something else showed up for me to doodle on. My arm. I am a dedicated doodler (it’s how I process information), and before long, I was doodling all over my arm, surrounding the word “lightness” with all measure of shapes and wiggles and trees and random words I picked up in my listening.
And… I loved it! I may never go back to doodling in my journal again! You might find me with new doodles on my arm every day – signs that I have been doing some deep process work, connecting with my artistic mind and my beautiful body all at the same time. (Try it! And come back and tell me about it!)
It was a great way of celebrating lightness – by not taking myself too seriously and letting my inner child surface in the doodles on my skin.
Another fun thing that happens when you doodle on your arm is that people notice. And in a place like ALIA, where we are encouraged to be curious, vulnerable, and authentic, they tend to respond in positive ways. Several people asked if they could take pictures of my arm AND one person (whom I hadn’t met before) invited me to participate with her in doing graphic facilitation for the next day’s session. “Anyone who does that to their arm can be trusted to help me co-create at the front of the room.”
Yikes! A doodle on my arm was a catalyst for me doodling on a big piece of paper on the wall in front of 250 people! It was both terrifying and exciting – like nothing I’ve ever done before.
With my confidence heightened, I continued to use my doodling throughout the rest of the week, doodling a learning tree during a session I hosted on feminine wisdom, doodling graphics while I helped a new friend imagine a business opportunity, doing henna doodles on the hands of all of the participants in the workshop I was in to represent their intentions for the week, and doing a whole new doodle/mandala on my arm the next day (that now started with the word “clarity”).
The lightness of doodling transformed my week. (Ironically, it was also a doodle at last year’s ALIA that cracked a door wide open for me and helped me imagine Sophia Leadership. Are you spotting a trend? Now start doodling and see what shifts for you!)
There’s at least one more way that lightness showed up for me last week… During the course of the week, I found myself drawn to several young people who brought incredible energy, vitality and passion to the community. It was exciting to be in circles with them. These are the gifted young leaders we can trust our futures to.
Twice I had the pleasure of being in conversations with women in their early twenties who were wrestling with the big, heavy questions of “what should I do with the rest of my life?” and “how do I use these passions I have to transform the world?” In both conversations, my advice (when it was asked for), coming from a place that surprised me, was “Hold it all lightly. Don’t take your life or your decisions too seriously. Each decision you make will help shape you, but none of these decisions will be ultimate and unchanging. Find a thread you feel called to follow and hold it lightly.”
Wow. I heard myself say those things and I knew I needed to take my own advice as much as they did.
Hold it all lightly. Hold light lightly. Offer light. Pass the light along. Light the way. Welcome lightness. Be a light. Walk lightly on this earth. Don’t hide your light under a bushel.
Be a light. Be light.
That’s it. Light. That’s what I want, and that’s what I want to offer.
I used to think it was just about offering light in a dark place (because I’ve become so accustomed to the dark and because I tend to take the world too seriously), but now I recognize that it’s that other kind of light as well. The absence of weight. The ability to go through life without letting it weigh you down.
There’s just one more piece of the light puzzle that started coming together last week that I’d like to share…
During one session, I participated in a fascinating circle time in which Thomas Arthur shared his Elementals – photos he’s taken of beings in the world, in which all he does is mirror the image of what he sees to create fanciful creatures from nature that speak to him (and to those who have the pleasure of listening with him). He asked us to choose an image that most spoke to us.
Elemental Goddess, by Thomas Arthur
I chose the image you see above. She drew me to her because of her sensuality and the sense that she is rising from some deep place with a smile on her face.
At first, it looked like she had a yoke across her shoulders, which was appropriate, for someone like me who’d been carrying a heavy backpack and lots of worries and old stories around with her early in the week.
When I looked closer, though, and added the purple shapes to the gold, the yoke was transformed into wings.
Like this beautiful Elemental, I want my yoke to be transformed into wings.
Be a light. Carry the world lightly.
Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. – Matthew 11: 29-30
I wish I could tell you what it feels like
to come to a place where you are understood
and deeply seen.
I wish I could tell you what it does to one’s heart
to know that your passions are shared, celebrated, and encouraged.
I wish I could tell you what it means
to share a space with 400 other women and men
and know that the feminine is truly honoured and welcomed in.
I wish I could tell you how energizing it is
to have conversations that ask for your
deepest questions and vulnerabilities.
I wish I could tell you how moving it is
to be reminded, by the way it is modeled,
that questions are the way to lead change.
I wish I could tell you how it makes your body come alive
when you move around the space with your tribe members
trusting that bodies hold wisdom our minds know nothing about.
I wish I could tell you how it transforms a space
when someone sits down on the floor with coloured markers
and begins to draw your questions and dreams.
I wish I could tell you about the feeling of power
when passionate people move into a circle
and there is no stronger position than the one you occupy.
I wish I could tell you about the tears that fill one’s eyes
when a truly passionate artist/performer
steps into his full beauty with driftwood and glass balls.
I wish I could tell you about the magic
of a brief after-dinner conversation
about stillborn babies and butterflies and our deep women’s stories.
I wish I could tell you all of these things.
But I can’t. Because words are only dim reflections of the truth.
(p.s. I am at ALIA Summer Institute, my watering hole, summer camp, tribal council, retreat, and learning journey all rolled into one.)
I don’t know what compelled me to leave the beaten path on the way to my meeting, but almost before I knew it, I was wandering along a rough, ungroomed trail by the river close to downtown. People tend to avoid this trail for fear of encountering the homeless people who normally frequent it.
As soon as I stepped off the pavement, the tight feeling in my chest reminded me why I haven’t taken that trail in over twenty years.
It was almost certainly the trail that my rapist used to get to the window of my basement apartment.
That apartment building was along the river, just up the path from where I entered, and a person could easily sneak in from behind without arousing any suspicion from the street or sidewalk in front of the building. Nobody noticed him slip into my window and take my innocence away.
That path is not a place where good things happen. It’s not a place where respectable people wander. It’s a place where homeless people find shelter from bad weather under concrete overhangs and fallen trees. It’s a place where substance abusers hide from the prying eyes of the police.
Why then was I on the path and why didn’t I turn back? I’m not sure. Something compelled me. Perhaps it was a search for redemption, or a curiosity about what my response would be now, more than twenty years later.
As I got deeper into the path and further from the safety of the street, my throat began to close around my breath. What if I encountered someone who looked like my rapist, in this place where few people would here me scream? What if I stumbled across a crime in process?
At one point I passed a concrete overhang where flattened cardboard boxes and tattered blankets told the story of its inhabitants. “Did my rapist live here?” I wondered.
In some places the path was so muddy from recent flooding that it was nearly impassable. A flip-flop wearing young woman in front of me (the only other person on the trail) slipped and got her foot stuck in the mud. In my sturdier runners and from my place of somewhat more solid ground, I reached out my hand and pulled her out of the mud.
Almost to my destination, I emerged from the path back onto the street. There in front of me was a health centre that was once the hospital where my first daughter was born fifteen years ago. It was only a block from the apartment where I’d been raped nine years before that.
As I walked to my board meeting, I was suddenly overcome by the layers of personal stories that this one city block held for me. First a rape in my early womanhood, then the happy birth that made me a mother, and now, in that same block, a meeting of the board I sit on for thefeminist organization that is working to empower marginalized women.
All of these stories coming together in one place. Stories of hurt, happiness, and redemption. Stories of violence, transformation, and fulfilment. Women’s stories, all of them. My stories. The layers of me – from hurt young woman, to excited young mom, to maturing adult ready to use those stories to help other women.
In the end, it was the moment that I stopped to pull the young woman out of the mud that stood out most for me. That was the lesson that I was meant to learn from my wander along the riverbank.
Though I was once the victim of crime, now I was the one who pulled other women out of the mud. The strength of my more sturdy position and appropriate footwear meant that I could reach over and offer others a lifeline.
And that’s what leadership is about – reaching a place on the path where our somewhat more sturdy footing gives us opportunity to offer support and balance to those on less solid ground and less prepared for the situation at hand. We’re still on the path with them, avoiding the muddy patches ourselves, wondering where the path will lead us, worried about the dangers along the way, and yet our life experience and wisdom gives us something to offer other sojourners along the way.
It is both as simple and challenging as that.
Here’s a video I took along the trail.
Note: It seems appropriate that this experience occurred yesterday, just before I leave for my week at ALIA, a place where I will be challenged and encouraged in my leadership journey. This image, of pulling the woman out of the mud, will sit with me as I contemplate where the journey is about to take me.